Southwestern Law School Los Angeles, CA

News Release

Phyllis Cheng, Director of Department of Fair Employment and Housing, Elected to Southwestern Board February 19, 2014
Phyllis Cheng, Director of Department of Fair Employment and Housing, Elected to Southwestern Board

A prominent advocate for civil rights in employment, housing and education throughout her career, Dr. Phyllis W. Cheng '93, Director of the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, has joined Southwestern's Board of Trustees.

Recognized by the State Bar of California as the 2012 Public Lawyer of the Year, Dr. Cheng has directed the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) since 2008. The DFEH is the largest state civil rights agency in the nation and is responsible for enforcing the Fair Employment and Housing Act, Unruh Civil Rights Act, Disabled Persons Act and Ralph Civil Rights Act. The department investigates, mediates and prosecutes about 20,000 discrimination, harassment and retaliation complaints against employers, housing providers and businesses each year.

"Southwestern will benefit greatly from Dr. Cheng's expertise and perspective as a highly effective educator, civic leader and civil rights advocate," Dean Susan Prager said. "She brings tremendous experience as an innovative leader and problem solver whose extraordinary dedication to public service serves as a wonderful role model for our students."

Earlier in her career, Dr. Cheng was of counsel at the national employment and labor law firm, Littler Mendelson; a senior appellate court attorney to the Hon. Laurie D. Zelon of the California Court of Appeal; a deputy attorney general in the Civil Rights Enforcement Section of the California Department of Justice; and an associate at Hadsell & Stormer, a civil and human rights firm where she practiced in the area of employment discrimination law.

She served two terms on the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission, including as vice chair, promulgated four sets of regulations, and ruled on nearly 80 fair employment and housing and civil rights cases. She also served on the California Commission on the Status of Women and the Interagency Coordinating Task Force on Early Intervention.

Dr. Cheng has been a member of the State Bar Committee of Bar Examiners and the executive committees of the Labor and Employment Law and Public Law Sections, and co-founded the Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Subsection of the State Bar's Real Property Law Section. She also edited both the California Labor and Employment Law Review and the Public Law Journal, is an editor of three chapters of Employment Litigation (The Rutter Group California Practice Guide, 2009-current editions) and a chapter contributor to an upcoming California Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Practice Guide, authors a regular column on cases pending before the California Supreme Court, and provides a free case alert service on new labor and employment law decisions to thousands of practitioners.

Before becoming a lawyer, Dr. Cheng founded and directed a citizens' commission to address sex discrimination at the Los Angeles Unified School District, was Title IX coordinator and monitored a Title VII consent decree promoting women into administration in the school system. She was responsible for the passage of California's version of the Title IX law prohibiting sex discrimination in education. She was also a researcher on school desegregation at the RAND Corporation, a member of the adjunct faculty at UCLA Graduate School of Education, director of a mentoring program for at-risk minority girls at the University of Southern California, and a debate panelist on KNBC-TV's Emmy-winning Free 4 All program.

An immigrant from Hong Kong and a native speaker of Chinese in three dialects, Dr. Cheng received her B.A. and M.Ed. degrees from UCLA, and her Ph.D. in Planning from the University of Southern California, where she was a James Irvine Fellow. She completed her J.D. at Southwestern as a member of the PLEAS Program for law students with child care responsibilities while caring for the first two of her three children. Her son Alexander Hoffman later followed in her footsteps and graduated from Southwestern in 2010.

Dr. Cheng continues Southwestern's legacy of producing outstanding leaders in public service and has maintained a close connection with the law school throughout her career. She has been a very generous donor to a variety of programs, scholarships and other funds as well as the restoration of the Bullocks Wilshire Building, naming one of the landmark's famous clocks in memory of her mother.

"Southwestern Law School prepared me well for my legal career," Dr. Cheng said. "I am glad to serve on the Board of Trustees to give back to my law school, our students and the community." Click here to read a Q&A with Dr. Cheng.